Wednesday, January 1st, 2014
Being single and childless isn’t the hardest part of working at Parents. Rather, my most challenging obstacle is my unconventional upbringing. I was raised by a single mother. As a child, I didn’t notice being different from everyone else. My mom and I have always shared a unique, special relationship. Every Tuesday night we watched Gilmore Girls together, and to this day I can’t make a decision without calling my mom for approval at least twice. Doubt me? I once left Ikea empty-handed because I couldn’t get cell service in the comforter section. Despite my wonderful, if fatherless, childhood, I find it difficult to get into the mind of our readers, who I’ve always assumed have a bit more testosterone in their household to balance things out.
But perhaps I’ve been wrong about that. For as I recently recognized after reading this recent New York Times article, my nontraditional family dynamic turns out not to be all that unconventional after all.
I’m far from alone in being raised by a single mother. In 2011, 36 percent of mothers who gave birth were unmarried and 44 percent of single mothers had never been married at all. Mothers are increasingly becoming breadwinners. Forty percent of households with children under 18 include moms who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, compared to just 11 percent of households in 1960. What about dads? A record 8 percent of households with children are headed by a single father today, a number that has increased ninefold since the 60s.
The current generation of young adults illustrates a vastly changing view in social norms. Seventy-two percent of adults 18 to 29 prefer a dual-income marriage, where the husband and wife both work and share household and childrearing responsibilities.
And the very definition of marriage has changed. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 16 states, and there are more than 100,000 same-sex couples raising children in this country. Their kids have proven to be academically and emotionally indistinguishable from those of heterosexual parents. As Natalie Angier put it, “In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows.”
Pop culture is mirroring that shift. The sitcom TV series Modern Family includes two gay fathers raising their Vietnamese adopted daughter. The show has received four consecutive Emmy awards for “Outstanding Comedy Series.” Change the channel and you’ll find Mom, where Anna Faris plays a single mom in Napa Valley. And as pop culture is invariably a reflection of social change, there’s clearly more than entertaining television shows playing out before us.
So on New Years Day, as we clink, cheer, and kiss those nearest and dearest into 2014, let’s also embrace the new definition of family. No one household is, or needs to be, the same as the next. If I’ve learned anything from my days at Parents, it’s the importance of loving and valuing your family, whatever the makeup and however it’s defined. This year, my resolution is to do just that.
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Image: Mother hugging daughter via Shutterstock.
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Monday, July 29th, 2013
“Ruthie and Tra-vis sittin’ in a tree,” my little fourth-grade classmates would sing as I jumped rope at recess.
Nina Davenport/Courtesy of HBO
“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in a baby carriage.” A schoolyard game taught us the “proper” sequence of life events before we even understood them. But what if that doesn’t work for everyone?
Filmmaker Nina Davenport examines the new trend of single women of a certain age having children without Mr. Right in her autbiographical documentary “First Comes Love,” premiering Monday, July 29 on HBO.
Davenport always wanted to be a mom, but as she got older she felt her chances of finding a man to have children with were fading along with her “rapidly diminishing ovarian reserve.” At age 41, Davenport decided to stop waiting and go it alone. “You can have the child and you can have the loving partnership for the rest of your life,” counseled her sister-in-law. “It’s just going to happen in that order.”
Using her friend Eric Oleson as her sperm donor, Davenport underwent fertility treatments before becoming pregnant and giving birth to her son, Jasper. Over the course of the film, Davenport found support in some—like her best friend and birthing partner, Amy Meselson—and scrutiny in others, like her father. But aside from confronting the difficulty of becoming a single mom, particularly at an advanced age, the movie raises important practical questions. Would Davenport be able to afford all of the expenses of a child? If Eric doesn’t want to play a larger role than sperm donor, and Amy’s commitment does not officially extend beyond delivery day, where will Davenport find the longterm help she needs?
Davenport’s film tackles tough issues as members of her own family cast their doubts over her journey into motherhood. “What about having a child is going to make that [financial] stressor go away?” questions Davenport’s other sister-in-law. “You don’t expect to provide a worse life for your child than you had. Do you?”
And aside from a potential financial burden, Davenport’s friends Howie and Dara seemed to be in awe of the motivation driving her to become a mom no matter what. As a new dad Howie said, “In all seriousness you have a much harder time because I see what it’s like with two people and you are alone so…wow! That’s going be twice, even more than twice [the amount of work].”
Throughout the film, Davenport consults with other single women in their 40s who have either had kids on their own or are trying to. Though limited, her pool of women all seem to be successful in their careers, independent, and confident in the people they have become. But as these women reflect on their paths, is all this self-investment and personal growth at the expense of finding a suitable parenting partner?
As women in Davenport’s documentary forego the romantic relationship in favor of a parental one, they may also give up the financial stability of two potential incomes, the emotional support of entering parenthood with a partner, and the physical sharing of time spent with the new baby. If that baby cries in the middle of the night, there is no “It’s your turn, honey.”
But as more women take full control over their reproductive future, the community of single mothers by choice will continue to grow. With that choice they choose the love of a child before the love of a partner, showing that truly “first comes love.”
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